On February 22, a small group came together in Ottawa in what will hopefully be the first of many “Connections North” interdisciplinary wargaming meetings. The miniconference—organized at the very last minute by Defence Research and Development Canada and PAXsims to take advantage of a visit to Canada by the one and only Jim Wallman—attracted eleven participants with expertise in wargaming, operations research, medical and humanitarian simulation, virtual simulation and training, higher education, and game design.
Following introductions and introductory remarks, Murray Dixson (DRDC) made a presentation on the MAGIC (“Matrix Games for Improvement of CBP”) project. This has involved a series of trials of the matrix game method to explore how it might be used to enhance capability-based planning at the Department of National Defence. To date they’ve run several games of the ISIS Crisis scenario, and found that the approach could be helpful for scenario testing and validation, although less so for identifying specific capability gaps. Analysis suggests that subject matter experts and non-SMEs take similar lengths of time to make a game move, and that the ratio of political, military, economic, social, infrastructure, information, and cultural (PMESII-C) actions was broadly similar across games. Both the presentation and the subsequent discussion highlighted the importance of game facilitation skills, and the risk that facilitators/adjudicators might insert their own views into the game. It was noted that the game materials also potentially cued players into making certain types of moves—a map with military assets displayed, for example, tends to encourage military actions. Game participants expressed some frustration at the difficulty of pursuing a coherent long-term strategy in ISIS Crisis. While this is partly a function of the sequential turn sequence, it likely has even more to do with the nature of the scenario, with its multiple conflicting actors and objectives. Future trials will likely involve a different scenario, thus allowing analysts to determine what game dynamics may be scenario-specific.
Paul Massel (DRDC) then made a presentation on a recent playtest of the Rapid Campaign Analysis Toolset (RCAT), which is being assessed by DRDC as a possible mechanism for stress-tresting defence planning scenarios, as well as a campaign planning tool. Given that the Canadian military is most likely to deploy as a “plug-and-play” component of much larger coalition efforts, other tools (such as the Peace Support Operations Model) have proven less useful for this task. As a member of the playtest group (and the nefarious Red commander), I had been impressed by RCAT’s flexibility and adaptability. Interestingly it sometimes uses a matrix game-like approach to resolving contextual circumstances and other issues that lie outside the normal rules, including those at the “fuzzy edge” of wargaming (ie, non-kinetic dynamics).
Next, I offered a slightly revised version of the presentation I made a few weeks ago at RAND on “Gaming the Semi-Cooperative: Peace Operations, HADR, and Beyond.” My key argument here was that extrinsic rewards and victory conditions were not the sole method to elicit semi-cooperative behaviour among players in a game. Player psychology is also important, and players can be influenced in a variety ways so as to introduce friction and tension in otherwise cooperative games, or to encourage a degree of cautious cooperation in otherwise largely adversarial ones.
Jim Wallman (Past Perspectives) offered some insightful remarks of his own on “wargaming for insight.” The key elements of such gaming, he argued, were the developmental or analytical requirements; relevant scenarios/vignettes; adoption of an appropriate game type and structure; resolution of the inevitable tensions between the time needed, the time available, and the time actually spent on a wargame; skilled facilitation; effective recording and reporting of the game; and post-game analysis.
With regard to the former he emphasized the need to define the scope of the investigation, and clarity as what was to be stress-tested or compared. He warned against the “kitchen sink” syndrome where sponsors attempt to encumber a wargame with too many components or questions. He warned against using off-the-shelf scenarios, or reusing those from different games, as they were rarely as effective as those that had been purpose-designed. Indeed it was important to recognize that insights were usually scenario-dependant. Game design and implementation should reduce the temptation and ability of players to “fight the white (cell)” by arguing against the scenario, rules, or adjudication. Game structures could be open or closed, rigid or free, and manual, digital, or a synthesis of both. Throughout he stressed that wargaming, while a very useful analytical tool, was not always the best tool to explore a particular issue—and that game designers needed to be clear about this.
A group lunch at Nandos was then followed by a general discussion of gaming issues, followed by a demonstration session of AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game. Here the players found the first days of the earthquake extremely challenging, with their collective (relief point) score approaching -20. However, by the second week of the disaster their position had improved considerably due to increasingly effective interagency coordination. The HADR Task Force and the government of Carana took the lead in repairing the port and airport, thus enabling a greater volume of relief supplies to flow into the country. Social unrest proved to be very limited, and was dealt with through community mediation and the occasional government security operation. The UN and NGO teams had begun to repair critical infrastructure, and thereby support a transition from emergency relief to early, sustainable recovery. We had to stop the game before it was finished, but the players seemed well on their way to a successful humanitarian assistance operation.
All-in-all, I thought it was a very successful day. There seemed to be considerable support among participants for making Connections North a somewhat larger annual event that brings together an interdisciplinary group of those involved in the serious application of national security gaming methods in Canada. In the coming months the next steps will be to determine the best time of year for this, expand the network of serious gamers who could be involved, and to find an institution (ideally in the Ottawa area) to host such an event. If you’re interested in becoming involved, drop me a line.